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LittleBigPlanet 2 gameplay preview

The planet just got a whole lot bigger

A grappling hook. That was the first thing Media Molecule revealed to CVG from LittleBigPlanet 2.

Don't get us wrong - it was splendid and all. It worked very much like the grappling hooks we've seen in classic platformers before; Fire with the grab button, attach yourself to a surface, climb, swing, release and you're rewarded with some nice acrobatics and a new dynamic.

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It just wasn't, you know, quite as riveting as we were expecting our first look at the PS3 blockbuster to turn out. Then, Media Molecule said they wanted to 'melt our brains'. So they did.

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LITTLEBIGGER
After finishing off the original LittleBigPlanet, Media Molecule's team were left with the daunting task of a follow up. But how can you possibly better a "monumental achievement" which, with the help of over two million developing hobbyists around the world, re-defined what gaming can be about?

Media Molecule decided to take the LittleBigPlanet concept and switch it into overdrive. LittleBigPlanet 2 is more than a platform game - it's even more than a platform game creator.

To borrow the words of the UK studio itself, LittleBigPlanet 2 is "a platform for games". It's the most accessible and quirky developer's toolkit ever.

This time around, the creative LBP community won't just be making their own levels; they'll be making their own games.

In LBP2 a level can start off as a simple platformer and suddenly change into a top down arcade racer or a giant robot beat 'em up or an asteroid style space shooter. Even the LBP team themselves can't list all the variables - because it all depends on the ingenuity of the online community. And from what we've seen in the past, ingenuity is not something the LBP fans are in short supply of.

MAN AND MACHINE
This revelation is all based around a few groundbreaking new features. The first is the introduction of 'Sackbots' - the answer to the cardboard cut-out characters LBP players were forced to use if they wanted to introduce a splash of AI into their world.

Sackbots provide the opportunity to create real AI. Everything can be tweaked from their walk speed, their movement style, even whether they are afraid of heights or whether or not they are on fire.

If you want to programme deeper than this then you need to open up the circuit board in the Sackbot's head.

All those chips and proximity sensors that triggered motors and behaviours in the first LBP have multiplied and can now be stuck onto the circuit board. You connect them in different ways to create different behaviour patterns.

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They work in more or less the same way as a real-life circuit board and so - in theory at least - offer just as many possibilities. Think about all the different kinds of electronic devices in the world that behave completely differently yet all share a similar set of components and you get an idea of what could be possible in LBP 2.

We sat down with Media Molecule's senior designer Danny Leaver, who set up a Sackbot to run to and pull a lever whenever our cutesy in-game character approached.

The circuit board brain used a variety of proximity sensors, switches and other gizmos which told the bot exactly how to behave and was put together within minutes. It was a very simple but incredibly satisfying bit of engineering.

As much fun as a successful bit of AI programming is, it's just as engaging when it goes wrong. Even Danny's simple little Sackbot couldn't get it right the first few times; patrolling right off the edge of the platform before he was told he should be afraid of heights, for example. Even troubleshooting becomes addictive and will (according to the inevitable television ads, at least) have families and friends hunched around the screens with suggestions.

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